Julie Braastad is preparing for her newest endeavor – that of Anoka County District 2 commissioner.
She defeated incumbent Andy Westerberg in the Nov. 6 general election.
Braastad is currently serving her second four-year term on the Ham Lake City Council. Prior to that she served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for two years.
She was encouraged to consider running for city council and getting involved in local government by her husband’s uncle, the late Ken Braastad, who served on the Ham Lake City Council for a number of years.
“I just always thought it was so neat that he knew everyone in the city,” Braastad recalls about Ken.
With her daughters away at college, Braastad found herself with considerable time on her hands and decided to throw her hat into the ring when there was an open seat on the Ham Lake City Council.
“The first city council election was interesting and fun,” Braastad said.
Braastad did a lot of door knocking, visiting every house in the city, she said.
“It was such an excellent way to get to know people, and what they wanted and didn’t want,” Braastad said.
Her efforts proved successful as Braastad won the first of two elections to the city council.
During her tenure, Braastad recalls the council’s consideration of city sewer and water as one of the biggest issues and one that would fill the council chambers.
She said it is important to look forward while also balancing the needs of residents.
“It was obvious it was not a good time for that (city sewer and water) in our city,” Braastad said.
As for her decision to run for the Anoka County Board, Braastad said she was encouraged to seek the office by friends and others in the district.
“My initial response was I am happy doing what I’m doing in Ham Lake,” she said.
But after further consideration and discussions with her family, Braastad decided to give it a try.
She assembled a good support team to help her with her campaign.
As the only one of four candidates in the primary who did not have state-level elected office experience, Braastad used that as motivation in her campaigning.
“That just gave me incentive to get out and meet people,” she said.
The effort worked, with Braastad finishing some 300 votes behind Westerberg, the top finisher in the primary.
“I thought I really had a chance,” Braastad said about the primary election results.
“I campaigned every hour I had.”
The effort paid off, with Braastad defeating Westerberg by some 975 votes in the Nov. 6 general election.
“I was shocked. I was happy. I was elated to say the least,” Braastad said. “It didn’t quite seem real.”
Since then Braastad has been attending all the county board meetings she can rather than watching them online as she did during the campaign. She has also attended a work session for elected commissioners and orientation.
“A lot of it is similar but there are a lot of areas that I don’t govern in the city, like human services,” Braastad about making the transition from city to county government.
Health and human services is something Braastad describes as a “learning experience,” but one she is eager to take on.
“I want to actively spend some time in each department,” she said to give her a better understanding on how the county operates.
It is something she found helpful when she was first elected to the council, Braastad said.
“I think it is really important to understand what their day is like,” she said.
As for policy, Braastad said she plans to keep a tight rein on the budget.
The last couple of years the board has made some good strides in being more fiscally responsible, she said.
“There’s always room for more improvement,” Braastad said.
Braastad worked as a paralegal contracting with companies and also helped with her husband’s electrical business prior to beginning her campaign for county commissioner.
Now she plans to devote her time to serving her constituents.
“I am really going to dedicate 100 percent of my time to this county position,” Braastad said.
“It’s such an honor to serve a larger base.”
Braastad describes her election as county commissioner as “such a journey.”
Elective office is something she truly enjoys, Braastad said.
“You get the bug and you just love it,” she said. “There is nothing more rewarding.”
Braastad grew up in Columbia Heights, later moving to Coon Rapids and Oak Grove before settling in Ham Lake. She will be sworn in Jan. 8.
Kelly Johnson is at firstname.lastname@example.org